Q: How do Nazarenes around the world view the church’s theology, and in what ways do they help to shape it?
A: The Church of the Nazarene is a global denomination with 2.4 million members. According to Nazarene.org, we worship weekly in 212 languages. On the Africa Region alone, there are more than 600,000 Nazarenes. For this reason, it is difficult to say how our theology is viewed globally. However, from interacting with Nazarenes in settings throughout Africa as well as in global theology forums, I know that our doctrinal emphasis upon holiness of heart and life is highly valued. Nonetheless, its practical application has lagged behind.
Michael Scott is a longtime member of the Board of Caribbean Nazarene College and a lay representative to the International Board of Education. In response to this question, he replied: “Nazarene theology exemplifies freedom and service in and for God’s creation as an expression and reflection of His love. However, in practice there is an observable disconnect.”
Theologian Mildred Wynkoop agreed. In A Theology of Love: the Dynamic of Wesleyanism (Beacon Hill, 1972), she spoke of a “credibility gap.” Our theological formulation of holiness—while important—must be validated by how we live out holiness both individually and corporately. The apostle John reminds us: “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT).
The American Holiness Movement contributed something important to our denomination’s theological message through its emphasis upon individual experience of God’s sanctifying grace. More recently, non-Western Nazarenes have begun to ask, what will holiness look like as we live it out not only individually but collectively?
For example, in many African cultures, the concept of Ubuntu —“I am because we are”—is a calling to group solidarity. Each of us is caught up in a story bigger than ourselves. When applied to the church, the “holy priesthood” spoken of by 1 Peter 2:9 comes to life. As African Nazarene theologians read Scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, addressed to a group of believers, they discern a call to pursue righteousness in our relationships with each other, hammering out the shape of holiness within community.
God calls us not to independence but to interdependence as seen in the life of the early church, especially in passages like Acts 2:42-47. In the words of author and former Point Loma Nazarene University professor Reuben Welch, we really do need each other.
God calls us not to independence but to interdependence.
Holiness is a biblical message for all cultures. As the Church of the Nazarene grows internationally, non-Western communal perspectives will increasingly supplement those more individualistic. The result will be a more well-rounded holiness message that meets the heart needs of individuals, families, communities, and nations. We can all celebrate that.
Gregory Crofford is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and senior lecturer in the Department of Religion at Africa Nazarene University. He was formerly coordinator of education and clergy development for the Africa Region.